June 10, 2011 Leave a comment
It had been a little while since I last heard from my ‘green’ friend, so in case her homemade bathroom tissue recycling plant had exploded, I thought it may be worth checking on her. She answered her cellphone with an expletive and without pausing for breath, she announced that she wasn’t in the mood to talk as “I’m stuck in traffic driving in town breathing in all these fumes and you just know there’s going to be nowhere to park this truck and my mouth tastes horrible because the batteries have gone in my toothbrush” followed by another expletive and ”we have got to get this traffic off the roads and cut congestion.” She then told me that anyway she wasn’t going to talk to me because I had called her a ‘green-o-crite’ and ended the call before I could explain why.
I thought of this yesterday when I was driving back home and realised that for all their sound bites about global warming and congestion, Governments are not serious about it. For if they were, they wouldn’t have just forced me to come to a complete stop on a 40mph road because there a chance that Ethel would want to pull out of her little side street and it wouldn’t be fair to make the residents of those five houses wait for a gap in traffic. So the traffic planners had made it a compulsory stop in all directions and I had to wait for the girl in front of me to stop shaving her legs and actually start off again. So did the other five vehicles between her car and mine. And of course, Ethel wasn’t actually pulling out of her little side street that day because she had lost her false teeth and couldn’t go out without them. But, just in case she did, 12 vehicles had come to a complete stop, inch forward and stop again, just because some faceless person (probably Ethel’s nephew in line for a nice inheritance) had got out a can of white paint and painted a white stripe across the road.
Anyone who drives in the US or Europe will come across the compulsory stop. Some of them make sense, for example when at the end of the road where you are about to drive over the cliff or into Ethel’s front parlour. But there are many many more random stop signs that really could just disappear overnight and help reduce emissions and cut congestion at the same time. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that the local traffic planners had shares in International Paints or needed that free paintbrush that came with the jumbo sized can of white paint in the local Home Depot. And this is the paradox: it’s almost universally known that stopped and slow moving traffic produces more emissions because the internal combustion engine is more efficient at higher speeds and congestion is made much worse by endless waits at traffic signals or having to stop because Ethel needs Fixodent for her false teeth. Yet we get more and more compulsory stop signs. It’s not because drivers don’t know it’s a bad idea to pull out into speeding traffic either.
The road to one hotel I use half a mile long and has two lanes in either direction. It terminates at a four way intersection that is access to the hotel, an apartment complex and the rear entrance to a shopping complex on each of the other three legs respectively. If you use this road you are unlucky if you see two other vehicles. Yet half way up this road is an entrance to an office building with a compulsory stop sign in each direction. And if you miss ignore the stop sign, the very nice police car that sits 100yds further up will do its imitation of a sound and light show and the very nice policeman inside will get out and give you a very nice ticket to appear in court for failing to stop. It’s a good location for him as he can sit nice and quiet and meet his monthly quota because of a white line across the road. Just realized, this kills three birds with one stone: It gives the policeman his monthly bonus, keeps the court system working and of course helps the government as well. The extra fuel you have pointlessly used to stop and start again means you have to buy more, therefore paying more in taxation to the state and the federal government.
You think this is fanciful? No. Let me quote an example from the UK: It took the incoming Administration to get the Department of Transport to allow traffic signals to be phased to allow free movement of traffic by installing sensors to trigger a succession of green lights or ‘green wave’. Previously the Department for Transport (DfT) had discouraged the systems which reduce fuel use and thus resulting in less tax being paid to the Treasury. But both Environmental and motoring groups say carbon emissions will be reduced following the official policy change. A BBC news report states “But now, rather than seeing green wave systems as a ‘cost’ to the public purse, the DfT views them as a benefit” and quotes the Department as saying “Urban traffic control systems, like green wave, help tackle congestion and vehicle emissions in urban areas, and a number are already being progressed as local major schemes.”
It’s after reading this that I call most single issue green campaigners ‘Green-o-crites’ and doubt the willingness of governments to really stave of global warming. For instead of trying to make me carry paper bags from the grocery store, why can’t we see a simple campaign to ease emissions through simple low cost measures – like removing some of the more pointless and totally unnecessary Stop signs on our highways? I am sure that there are other spin-offs as well, for the redundant aluminium signs could be melted down for recycling (it takes 20 times as much energy to produce aluminium from ore) and a lot of the estimated $115 billion and 3.9 billion gallons of fuel that was wasted through congestion in the US in 2009 could be saved. These figures are from a US government authorized study that also estimates the cost to the individual was $808 and 34 hours annually in the same year.
So perhaps the stopping of the stop sign could be one of the more easy targets for my green friend. You can even produce a campaign slogan for it, ‘Stop-signs Trouble Our Planet’. Traffic congestion cut, emissions cut, aluminum production cut, oil production cut, less deep sea drilling and I can get to the grocery store and back with my plastic shopping bag full of steaks a lot quicker. Of course, that is assuming that all those so called environmental activists can actually stop attending conferences in Cancun and campaign for the real things that will help, not insisting that we cover the nation with windmills and stop whatever is the bete noire of the day.